Meg O’Hara Explores New Form of Science Communication Through Art


By: Donny O'Neill

This summer, artist and POW Creative Ambassador, Meg O’Hara, became the first-ever Artist-in-Residence at the Canadian Ice Core Lab, collaborating closely with glaciologist Dr. Alison Criscitiello. Throughout her Residency, Meg delved into the world of ice core samples, immersing herself in the lab’s scientific realm, and unlocking the potential of art as a powerful form of science communication. Meg will use this experience to create a series of paintings to convey the profound secrets and vital lessons concealed within the layers of ice, bridging the gap between the scientific community and the wider public through an artistic lens.

We sat down with Meg to learn more about her experience.

Tell us a bit about yourself

My name is Meg O’Hara and I’m an artist. My work is based on ocean conservation and climate action in the polar region. My goal is to inspire the viewer to seek adventure in nature and reflect on their role in preserving it.

How did the idea of an Artist Residency at the Canadian Ice Core Lab (CICL) come about, and what motivated you to pursue this opportunity?

Meg: Dr. Alison Criscitiello and I connected through Protect Our Winters, and bonded over our shared love for ice and cold places. As the Director of the CICL, Ali invited me to participate in the Artist Residency to explore the intersection of art and science. Witnessing the precious ice cores firsthand inspired me to convey two essential messages through my art: the urgency of climate action and the intrinsic beauty of our frozen planet. Collaboration with the CICL enables us to explore a new form of science communication and visualization for Ali’s research.

Tell me more about the lab. What are ice core samples and why are they important?

Each ice core sample measures approximately 1 meter in length and 10 centimeters in width. To collect these samples, glaciologists venture to remote locations and drill ice from deep below the surface. Each piece of ice undergoes meticulous preservation and testing at the lab. The lab houses an impressive archive of about 1.5 kilometers of ice core samples, all stored at a bone chilling temperature of -40 degrees Celsius.

Using ice cores, scientists can track Earth’s temperature variations over time, and gain insights into a wide range of factors, including forest fires, marine biogenic activity, persistent human-made environmental contaminants, seasonal melt, volcanic activity, and past climate patterns. These analyses allow for the reconstruction of temperatures throughout the lifespan of each ice core sample.

Tell me a bit about polar and non-polar ice that they have in the lab?

Polar ice is taken from the two polar regions — either up North in the Arctic, or down South in the Antarctic. Non-polar ice is taken from anywhere else on Earth. The longest climate records are in the polar regions where the ice has remained unmelted and undisturbed for ages. For context, the oldest non-polar ice core sample is approximately 10,000 years old, while the oldest polar ice core sample is about 1,000,000 years old.

There is a lot of regional information in non-polar ice that we can’t get from polar ice. This is why finding, collecting, and studying non-polar ice core samples is so important. However, finding a top notch non-polar site isn’t easy — the locations are hard to come across and even harder to get to.

Dr. Alison Criscitiello is a prominent glaciologist famous for her recent expedition to Mount Logan, can you tell us more about it?

Mount Logan is the perfect location to collect non-polar ice core samples. Instead of a pointed peak, it has a 20km long summit plateau — this means all of the snow from thousands of years has been filling up the bowl with nowhere to go. Mount Logan is also the tallest peak in Canada, so the snow has been able to accumulate in the frozen high alpine without melting. Last but not least, the mountain receives a lot of precipitation due to its proximity to the ocean. There is over 400m deep ice on the mountain top; as Ali said, “it’s unheard of.”

I’ll save you the details, but the logistics of getting Ali and her team to the top of Mount Logan and keeping them there for a few weeks is nuts. The expedition, supported by National Geographic Society and Rolex through their Perpetual Planet Expeditions program, required a very small and highly specialized team that held the scientific and mountaineering skills needed to pull off the dangerous ascent to the peak. I Googled “when’s the best time to climb Mount Logan” and the answer on every forum was a unanimous and straightforward answer…“Never”. When I told this to Ali she laughed and told me she’s already climbed it three times.

Needless to say, the Mount Logan ice core samples in this lab are the holy grail and I quickly became obsessed with them.

What is your education background, did you study this in school?

Absolutely not! My educational background is quite different from what you might expect. Due to my dyslexia, I was pulled out of math and science classes early on. I even failed Geography in high school and I failed Earth and Ocean Sciences in University! I floundered academically, but now see that as a blessing in disguise. My learning disability has gifted me with a unique perspective, allowing me to communicate complex scientific concepts in a way that resonates with a broader audience.

Science is for everyone, and there’s a vast world of knowledge beyond the traditional classroom setting.

Tell me about what you saw in the ice?

Sure thing! In the ice, I saw some fascinating features. There were intricate lines and cracks caused by the pressure on the glacier.

Glaciers form as snow compacts into ice, with more and more pressure lower down. At the very bottom near the bedrock, the flow and pressure from the heavy ice above create stunning features in the ice. The lower the ice core sample, the more visible these details.

These lines represent how ice bends and moves under pressure, telling stories of our ever-changing planet and past climates. Each ice core holds valuable insights into our planet’s history, frozen in time. It’s incredible to witness these icy records, showing us the Earth’s journey through the ages.

Your art often addresses environmental issues. How has this residency at the Ice Core Lab deepened your connection to the climate crisis, and what message do you hope to convey through your art?

Through this Artist Residency at the Ice Core Lab, my connection to the climate crisis has deepened significantly. Witnessing the precious ice core samples, each holding a historical record of our planet’s climate, brought the urgency of climate change to the forefront. It’s like gazing into the Earth’s time capsule, where every layer of ice tells a story of environmental shifts and human impacts.

My hope is to convey two essential messages through my upcoming series on the Mount Logan ice cores. First, I want to emphasize the urgency of climate action. Ancient ice is the barometer of Earth’s climate. By visualizing these changes and their impact, I aim to ignite a sense of responsibility and inspire action.

Secondly, I want to showcase the intrinsic beauty and importance of our frozen Earth. My art seeks to celebrate these pristine environments and raise awareness of their vulnerability in the face of climate change.

By intertwining art and science communication, I hope to create a powerful narrative that resonates with people of all backgrounds. Art can bridge the gap between data and emotions, sparking empathy and inspiring collective action for a sustainable and thriving planet. Through my work, I aspire to motivate positive change, fostering a greater appreciation for nature and driving meaningful steps toward climate resilience and environmental stewardship.

Donny O'Neill

Author: Donny O'Neill

Donny grew up in the woods of rural Northwestern Connecticut, where he spent much of his time tromping through the deep New England forest that made up his backyard. He first clicked into a pair of skis at the age of 3 and has spent each and every winter since exploring the world via a […]